By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
November 21, 2007
We see definite storm warnings ahead for the U.S. economy. Nobody wants to say the “R” word (HUSH: recession) or the “I” word (inflation), but there are at least five major interrelated factors at play that negatively impact the real or perceived strength of the U.S. economy in the near term.
Gas prices: They are going up and this impacts everyone. Filling the tank for commuting, job hunting or hauling sheet rock; it doesn’t matter the reason; is costing us all more with no end in sight. And everything you buy and touch from the groceries to the new microwave take part of their journey by truck. World-wide demand is up with China showing an unquenchable thirst for oil. Any chance that OPEC will increase production to bring down the price? If you were an Emir, would you?
Loss of value in the dollar: This is no time to hold dollars. During the last week of October, the dollar hit long-term lows against the euro, the British pound and the Canadian dollar. Fears that overseas investors and countries, especially China which holds over a trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves, could sell or convert their dollar holdings have depressed the dollar.
Suddenly the euro is hot.
Even Supermodel Gisele Bündchen, the 27 year old Brazilian bombshell who made $30 million last year, decided apparently that she’d rather be paid in euros from now on.
Ms. Bündchen appears to be the “girlfriend” of New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady. Now if HE elects to be paid in euros, I am moving to Canada. Or maybe Brazil if my wife lets me!
Housing, credit and construction: Slower economic growth, largely driven by a lingering housing slump and a related credit squeeze; is already putting thousands of workers out of work. We expect fewer new home starts for the foreseeable future. The trickle down impact of this? Lost jobs in all the building trades from the carpenter to the master electrician. Fewer new refrigerator sales. Fewer new sofas sold. Sobbing realtors. Just as the cost of oil impacts the cost of your groceries and microwave, so too is a slowdown in new home starts likely put many home decorators, carpet stores and furniture outlets on the skids.
Inflation in China: China’s consumer prices shot up 6.5% in October vs. a year earlier. August levels were at a ten year high. Food prices in China are skyrocketing. This is putting pressure on employers to pay more. Higher worker pay will drive up the prices of China’s notoriously inexpensive goods. Inflation in China will mean increased cost for those low cost Chinese goodies you buy. What goodies do we mean? Just about every product you shop for in the Target, WalMart, Sears and elsewhere. We’re talking about higher prices for clothing, toys, steel and other products China exports. If China’s exports get pricier, that would feed into U.S. inflation through a hike in the cost of imported goods.
For the U.S. and other countries, China’s inflation bears watching. That’s because China has played a big role in easing global inflation by manufacturing low-cost goods.
American jobs: We sometimes wonder if the American job scene of 1960 was better or worse than the job outlook today. Fewer highly paid union jobs with full benefits and medical coverage exist today. Ask any automotive worker. The service industry is burgeoning: but these jobs are low paying. The average clerk at Sears gets paid $8-$10 an hour. Building security personnel, without a firearm, earn about $10 an hour. In a 40 hour week, these folks earn about $400, with little or no benefits and no medical coverage. Cleaners, sweepers and the like may earn less. And, in an insidious use of legal procedure, many employers only let employees work for 38 hours per week. By stopping the employee short of a 40 hour week, the employer has no legal requirement to pay any benefits. So we expect pressure will build to raise worker pay and increase benefits, especially medical care.
Loss of U.S. influence and prestige: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have meant a diminished stature for the U.S. worldwide. This has emboldened China, Russia, North Korea and others. Currently, President General Musharraf seems in defiance of the U.S. Even Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is emboldened by this factor, real or imagined, and has declared his own war of defiance against the U.S.
The Washington Post’s columnist Anne Applebaum wrote in “Collateral Damage,” on November 20, 2007, “the collateral damage inflicted by the war on America’s relationships with the rest of the world is a lot deeper and broader than most Americans have realized. It isn’t just that the Iraq war invigorated the anti-Americanism that has always been latent pretty much everywhere. What’s worse is the fact that — however it all comes out in the end, however successful Iraqi democracy is a decade from now — our conduct of the war has disillusioned our natural friends and supporters and thrown a lasting shadow over our military and political competence. However it all comes out, the price we’ve paid is too high.”
And the price in prestige and respect impacts the cost of the dollar.
While we always think the glass is half full; and we fully ascribe to Abraham Lincoln’s optimism just before the first officially decreed Thanksgiving in 1863, we do believe that there are some dark clouds building on the horizon for the U.S. economy.
Oil prices rise to new record in Asia